Planning and Compulsory Purchase Bill
Lord Rooker (Minister of State (Regeneration and Regional Development), Office of the Deputy Prime Minister; Labour)
My Lords, although I shall cite a few examples for the noble Baroness, the short answer to the amendment is that the Secretary of State has a duty to act reasonably at all times. It is unnecessary to qualify the reference in Clause 27 by adding the word "significantly". If a local planning authority failed to prepare a development plan document for an insignificant reason, the Secretary of State would not intervene. This is not something that he would do on a whim.
The noble Baroness asked me for examples. We make no bones about the fact that the power is deliberately wide and not restricted to any particular circumstance. There are numerous circumstances in which a local planning authority could fail to carry out its plan-making functions correctly, some of which I shall set out.
It could be a failure to prepare a development plan document to deliver the requirements as set out in the regional spatial strategy. It could be where a plan clashes without sufficient justification with national or regional policy. As I said in Committee, we accept that sometimes there will be clashes and contradictions because of local circumstances, but where there is insufficient justification, there would be a problem. It could also be where a plan causes harm to other areas, such as to an adjoining local authority area. It could be where a local planning authority fails to deliver the development plan document as set out in its local development scheme, and where the local planning authority fails to adopt development plan documents after an examination.
These are instances where the Secretary of State would wish to use the default powers. I do not deny that they are sanctions, but they would be operated only on the basis of the Secretary of State being reasonable at all times. If the Secretary of State were to operate unreasonably, there is always the possible threat of judicial review. Further, I am absolutely certain that good legal advice from within government would be offered to the Secretary of State before he sought to use these powers, so that he could not be accused of acting on a whim, being party political against a particular authority, or reacting to a personality clash. Good reasons would have to be given. The examples I have given are the kind we envisage.